The public afterlife of ethnography

by Didier Fassin

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Research generally ends with the publication of its results. What happens to it afterward is implicitly viewed as the usual after-sales service of science. Yet its encounter with various audiences, the debates it raises, and the new perspectives it opens can be collectively regarded as an object of inquiry in its own right. In this essay, I embark on an analysis of the public afterlife of ethnography. Rather than promote public social science, I examine what it is, the operations it entails, the questions it poses, and the challenges and limitations it faces. Drawing principally from public engagement with and reception of two recent books on urban policing and the carceral condition in France, I discuss the meaning and significance of afterlife, the multiple configurations of and interactions with publics, and the specific issues related to the publicization of ethnography.